Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

Sound and (No) Vision: Locating the Radio Trailer

Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

Sound and (No) Vision: Locating the Radio Trailer

Article excerpt

An indifferent trailer can spring to life given good music, and a very good trailer can be dull and uninteresting because of a bad music track. Trailers [...] gain continuity by the use of music and effects.

(Harris 1953: 101)

Academic analysis and consideration of promotional materials such as the 'coming attraction' film trailer has become increasingly established over the last decade. Building on the work of earlier scholars of ephemeral media such as Stephen Heath (1976), two distinct approaches have emerged. The first approach unproblematically links the film trailer to the feature film it is promoting and sees the trailer as an abbreviation, offering a free sample of 'the material that films will take 90 minutes to work over' (Haralovich & 1981-82: 1981-82: 71). This approach equally regards the trailer as a format that 'sells and tells a reconfigured version of a film narrative' (Kernan 2004: 2; see also Gray 2010). The other approach considers the trailer as a more complex short film in its own right, part of the wider consumable identity created around the film, not restricted to providing 'coherent interpretations of a film', but offering 'multiple avenues of access to the text' (Klinger 1989: 9-10; see also Johnston 2009; Hesford 2013).

In both approaches, however, trailer studies persist in regarding its central text as a complex visual medium driven by montage editing techniques, a 'brief film text that [...] displays images from a specific feature filin', rarely considering the concurrent layering of disparate soundtrack elements (Kernan 2004: 1). While broader film studies scholarship has begun to interrogate the soundtrack, not least through a focus on popular and classical music usage, trailer analysis tends to overlook music despite claims from trailer producers such as Esther Harris (above) or Shaun Farrington, who see 'music in trailers [as] the absolute heartbeat, the foundation' of the trailer narrative (quoted in Johnston 2013a). The role and weight of the soundtrack in structuring the trailer format has, therefore, been most closely considered in relation to film trailers in other media. Existing analyses have noted that television and video trailers typically deploy a change in aural address to foster intimacy or use direct address to engage viewers, and studies highlight the fact that there has been an increased prominence given to music tracks in internet trailers (Johnston 2008; 2009).

Complementing the themes of this special issue, this article is a necessary exploration of the audio elements of trailers, through a case study of a historically overlooked form of film promotion: the radio trailer or 'spot'.1 Given that the trailer format easily crosses media borders, the radio trailer is initially investigated as an aural form of the film trailer format and structure (Johnston 2009). Yet exploring the role of aural elements within the radio trailer (music, narrative voice and sound effects/ design) demonstrates that these radio spots are often responses to, or creative acknowledgements of, their placement within advertising breaks on commercial radio stations which foreground popular chart music. The roles of music and voice, therefore, take on dual functions: they fulfil traditional roles within trailer structure, but are also deployed to mirror the aural surround within which the trailer features. As the article will demonstrate, the radio trailer has to be understood as a format that borrows from both the visual conventions of film trailers and the mediumspecific surround of the radio station, arguably pushing beyond both to establish audio conventions unique to this form of trailer.

This article builds its argument through the analysis of the formal qualities of a corpus of radio trailers broadcast on UK radio between 1973 and 2013, exploring the nature of the trailer address, and examining the use of all soundtrack elements. Through this analysis, the article develops the first taxonomy of the radio trailer, an intervention that expands the discussion of the importance of the soundtrack within trailer studies. …

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